Wisconsin does not produce a drop of oil or a puff of natural gas, but Joe Biden’s plan to move the U.S. off of fossil fuels would hit the state hard.
The Badger State is the largest producer of industrial sand in the U.S. For decades, small scale sand mines provided sand to glassmakers, cranberry farmers, and chemical manufacturing. But demand for Wisconsin sand soared in recent years thanks to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves blasting water, sand, and chemicals into rock to extract oil and natural gas.
Biden has repeatedly said he would not ban fracking but his climate change plan calls for the government to push out fossil fuel use and mining. And during Thursday night’s debate with President Donald Trump, Biden said he would close down the oil industry to “transition” toward fuels favored by environmentalists. That would accomplish the same end as a fracking ban—and choke off demand for Wisconsin high-quality sand resources.
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) October 23, 2020
How important is fracking to sand mining in Wisconsin? Extremely.
“Recent growth in the petroleum industry has created a high demand for sand that can be used for hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to extract natural gas and crude oil from rock formations in other states. Wisconsin has high-quality sand resources and, as a result, the DNR has seen a substantial rise in permit requests to the department to mine industrial sand. Industrial sand is sometimes called ‘frac’ sand or silica sand,” the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources explains.
Sand mining has attracted billions of dollars of investment into western Wisconsin and created thousands of good-paying jobs. According to the Wall Street Journal, the frac sand jobs had “starting wages that were $5 to $8 an hour more than the typical jobs around that didn’t require a college degree. By 2012, there were about 60 frack-sand mines in Wisconsin and 20 more on the drawing board.”
From the Wall Street Journal:
Mining companies provided local governments with tax payments, royalty checks and contributions to civic projects. In Blair, a city with a cheese factory and about 1,350 residents, funds from [sand miner] Hi-Crush helped pay for a new public swimming pool after the city annexed land for the company’s 1,285-acre mine. The annexation let Hi-Crush avoid the permitting process in surrounding Trempealeau County, which had a history of putting up obstacles to miners.
“Companies involved in Wisconsin’s sand mining industry employ thousands in family-supporting jobs and are making significant, multimillion-dollar investments in areas across Wisconsin, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in overall economic impact to the state and in local communities,” according to the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association.
Lately, sand mining has fallen on tough times. The pandemic has pushed down demand for energy and crushed oil prices that were already low thanks to a price war led by OPEC and Russia. Hundreds of workers have lost their jobs and investors have lost millions as once high-flying sand mining stocks went bust. Hi-Crush declared bankruptcy. Cities and towns are hurting as their tax base erodes.
According to Reuters, “The shale bust in early March has turned the frack sand mining business into the new coal. As U.S. oil prices plunged, sand suppliers have shut mines, dismissed workers and slashed operations as customers stop drilling and fracking new shale oil wells.”
In many ways, the 2020 fracking sand bust is just a preview of what Biden’s plan to “transition” off of fossil fuels would do to the region. Many miners now believe that the industry will recover once demand for energy rebounds. But there would be no rebound from a permanent move off of oil and natural gas. Jobs at mines would be gone permanently, investment would come to a halt, and the industry would collapse into a shadow of itself, devastating the economies of western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota.